Brain Slugs From Planet X

Brain Slugs from Planet X

From: Silver Gryphon Games

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

If I were to play some word association with you and said, “Fifties cinema,” most of you would likely respond with, “Alien invasion.” However, a few of you might instead go with, “Teen angst.” Both of these genres were well-represented in film during that decade, so it’s no surprise that the two were sometimes combined (with The Blob probably being the best known of the lot). It’s this particular genre mash which Brain Slugs From Planet X employs.

From page 1:
Low-cost, often formulaic, with hammy acting, yet, despite these ‘flaws’, the B-Movie continues to fascinate us. To bring us back to fun days of childhood huddled before the glow of a late-night TV when the world was perfect as we sat there eating popcorn and waiting for the rubber monster to pop out of those shadows, causing us to giggle and squeal with delight.

Before the scenario proper, Brain Slugs From Planet X starts off with a discussion regarding the appeal of B-movies, as well as some of the more commonly applied tropes. Very handy for getting the GM into a proper frame of mind. This is then followed up with a list of common high school movie archetypes, each with a sample character profile at Novice level. However, the profiles are not fully balanced against each other. There are a couple of instances where the writer forgot to take into account that raising a skill above its linked attribute during character creation costs two points per advance instead of one. While this is a simple enough for the GM to correct, it’s a bit sloppy.

The scenario itself consists of a broad outline which covers the movements and actions of the Brain Slugs as well as the more prominent human NPCs over the previous few days. At what point the player characters start off can largely be left to the discretion of the GM. This lack of set pieces can be daunting for beginner GMs, who should probably give it a miss for now. However, the loose structure makes the scenario ideal for gaming groups who prefer sandbox-style gameplay. This is then followed up with character profiles of the Brain Slugs and human NPCs. Suggestions are also provided on the sort of improvised weapons to be found in a high school and how teachers may react to the shenanigans the player characters are likely to get up to.

From the front cover:
They came from the stars to send you to the grave!”

When it comes to the motive for the antagonists, Brain Slugs takes a slightly unconventional approach. In the typical “Thing From Outer Space” B-movie of the Fifties, the aliens are here either to invade or engage in some recon and/or infiltration as a prelude to an invasion. Here, the aliens simply crash-landed and are attempting to repair their ship. Unfortunately for them, the school’s delinquent has swiped a critical component of the ship’s engine. The fact that they’re acting more out of desperation than malice means that players can opt to employ diplomacy. Of course, your players may be more inclined to resolve matters with violence anyway, but it’s nice to know that the choice is available.

In conclusion, as long as both players and GM are fine with winging it to a certain degree, Brain Slugs fully emulates the vibe of Fifties-style teen angst and alien invasion B-movies. But though the default time period may be the Fifties, it can easily be set in a more recent decade should that be desired.

Rating: 16

Product Summary

Brain Slugs From Planet X

From: Silver Gryphon Games

Type of Game: RPG Adventure

Written by: Dave Baymiller

Contributing Authors: Kevin Rohan

Cover Art by: Brian Brinlee and Ben Overmyer

Additional Art by: Brian Brinlee

Number of Pages: 12

Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Core Rules

Retail Price: $ 5.00

Website: http://www.silvergryphongames.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled
From
: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled is a new RPG Adventure from Gypsy Knights Games.

Cascadia has proven to be a fairly descent hotbed of adventuring with the previous two adventures in this series and this closes it out in similar fashion.  In this adventure, the players have a great opportunity to do something big for the patron throughout the series and be greatly rewarded.  Or if things don’t go well, they could end up with a considerable number of enemies and perhaps be blamed for a terrible crime.

From the website:
“Thousands of credits stolen from the Razz Casino on Chance is just the beginning!”

The adventure starts put very similarly to the others – with their patron, Carrie O’Malley hiring them in her office on Chance.  Much of the text is the same text from the previous adventures.  However, the big change is the stakes.  Ms. O’Malley is hiring the group to chase down someone that robbed her. Unlike the last adventures, this one is personal to O’Malley.

Milton Hawthorne, a member of O’Malley’s security, has stolen a significant amount of money from her and she is angrily seeking him out.  It becomes quite apparent to the characters that O’Malley is not overly concerned for the livelihood of Mr. Hawthorne and this right away may cause some moral dilemmas to the characters.  Are they comfortable with being hired as hired gunmen?  Is that what they got into this business to do?

The party is sent to contact the ex-wife of the culprit and interview her.  This seems like a dead end part of the investigation but as the party finds out, it is definitely not.  She is now married to a prominent political figure on Cascadia, so the party is asked to be discrete and careful.  The last thing O’Malley wants is attention from a powerful political figure.

Clues can be found from contacts on Chance, especially if the pregenerated characters are used.  However, by the third adventure, a party of original characters should have made these contacts on their own.  In the adventure, the party is encouraged to leave as soon as possible, so there is little opportunity for information gathering.

From the website:
“Milton ‘The Monk’ Hawthorne, security officer, has robbed the Razz Casino and fled the system.  Carrie O’Malley, owner of the casino, has hired the crew of MV Dust Runner to locate Hawthorne and recover the stolen money.”

The journey in this adventure takes the party from Chance, to Dimme and then to Cascadia – plenty of opportunity for other side adventures like the ones presented in the 21 Plot series from Gypsy Knights.  Once they reach Cascadia, the investigation delves deep into a political intrigue plot that could end badly.  The GM is encouraged to read up on Cascadia in the Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia to get the full feel of what the world is like.  And then expand on it with your own ideas as the writer always leaves plenty of room for game master customization.

Without giving away the core plotline, the robbery investigation takes an interesting turn and thrusts the party deep in the political culture of the world of Cascadia, capital of the Cascadia sector.  Stringing all three of these adventures together, throwing in a few 21 Plots for side adventures, a GM could give a game group months of gaming.

In conclusion, this is a great ending to the Cascadia adventure series.  There is nothing I like more than political intrigue.  I highly recommend a GM taking all three of these adventures and making them their own.  There may be a ways to even tie them loosely together to create a greater story arch of deeper political meaning to the Cascadia setting.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG AdventureCascadia Adventures 3: Fled” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure
Author: John Watts
Cover Art: © BBB3 – Fotolia.com
Interior Art: Steve Attwood / www.digitalwaterfalls.co.uk
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Number of Pages: 47
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller rulebooks
Retail Price: $4.99 (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Silent Memories

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studios

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

When science fiction and horror are melded, space travel will often involve the passengers undergoing some form of stasis. This isn’t hard to understand. While characters in these stories are on ice (or however stasis works in the setting), who knows what might be lurking in the corridors. Silent Memories is designed specifically for enacting such scenarios.

From page 2:
“You awaken from a cryogenic sleep aboard a spaceship with no knowledge of who you are or how you came to be here. You have no knowledge of your mission, or even where you are going. All that remains is your training, and the impending sense that something is very wrong.”

As indicated in the above quote, the game premise bears a more than passing resemblance to the movie Pandorum. Each player takes the role of a particular specialty, like medical officer or engineer. Initially, this is all that they’ll know. It will quickly become apparent that something has gone wrong and they must fix the problem before irreversible disaster strikes. Along the way they’ll encounter a variety of signs of the ship’s deterioration. The manner in which these manifest depend largely on what sort of scenario the GM chooses to run.

From page 1:
“A roleplaying game about finding out who you are before you die.”

One of the more unique aspects of Silent Memories is how task resolution is handled. Instead of the usual dice, a Jenga tower is employed. Depending on the nature of the task, a player makes one or more pulls. If the tower stays upright, the task is successfully completed (though at the GM’s discretion there may be a complication of some sort). A successful pull also provides the player in question with a Memory. These are slips of paper the GM prepares beforehand containing 1-3 sentences. These can range from crucial hints about the mission to complete non-sequiturs, or perhaps a realization by the character of an item on his person. To help build paranoia, the player does not reveal the contents of the Memory to the other players. The first time the Jenga tower collapses, the player responsible learns the Truth. This is a document providing details (not necessarily complete) of the mission. If the scenario calls for it, the player who learns the Truth also becomes a traitor. The tower is reset and any further collapses result in the character death for the responsible player.

While the use of a Jenga tower is an excellent method for building tension, it can easily put some players at a disadvantage. Dice have always been the preferred method of determining task resolution in RPGs due to their randomness. A Jenga tower on the other hand is purely skill based, giving players who possess a steady hand a clear edge over those who don’t. If abilities at making successful Jenga tower pulls are especially unequal among the players, it could potentially result in considerable ill will.

In conclusion, if the Jenga tower mechanic or the potential backstabbing is going to be an issue with one or more of your players, you may want to give this one a pass. Otherwise, it can make for an intriguing change of pace for game nights after your regular campaign has concluded, or you wish to take a break from it.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studio

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Chad Wattler

Edited by: Adam Gottfried and Chuck Wills

Number of Pages: 20

Game Components Not Included: Jenga tower

Retail Price (PDF): Free

Website:http://www.morningskye.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Firefly: the Game

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Over the decades, there have been a plethora of shows which failed to last more than one season. While most are quickly forgotten, a few have managed to maintain a cult following. Of these shows, none have quite inspired the fanatical devotion that Firefly has garnered. Eleven years following its untimely cancellation, an official board game has been released.

From the back of the box:
“After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple; find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

My own feeling in regards to Firefly could be considered somewhat mixed. The space Western motif was a huge draw, since I’m a sucker for Westerns with a weird twist (as my fandom of Deadlands will attest). Not only that, but the theme of struggling to get by and keep your ship running injected a free trader element which had been mostly restricted to literary science fiction up to that point. On the negative side, the whole Academy subplot with its conspiracy undertones struck me as being old hat, and I felt it clashed badly with the space Western side. So I guess it was inevitable that I would find the 2005 movie to be a disappointment, as it jettisoned most everything I had enjoyed about the show while emphasizing what I disliked. Having said that, the above quote gave a positive initial impression of the game by indicating that it would concentrate on the aspects which attracted me to the show in the first place.

Much like the characters from the TV show, a player’s goal is to take jobs and earn money to keep his ship running. On a player’s turn, up to two actions may be taken, so long as the same action type isn’t repeated. The four possible action types are Fly, Buy, Deal, and Work. Frequently skill checks will be required during these actions. This involves rolling a die and adding bonuses provided by the relevant Supply cards. Should the die come up a six, a second die is rolled, with the result being added to the total as well.

Of course, a ship isn’t a proper ship without a captain. There are seven different leaders from which to select. As well as providing some skill bonuses, each leader has a special ability which will either reduce the cost of purchasing certain Supply cards or provide an additional benefit from completing certain types of jobs.

Flying moves your ship around the game board and comes in two varieties. When you Mosey, your ship moves one space. While there’s no risk or expenditure of resources involved, it’ll also take forever to cover any significant distance. To make some real progress requires Full Burn. By expending one unit of Fuel, the ship may move a number of spaces up to the Range of the currently equipped drive. However, each space moved during Full Burn requires a draw from the appropriate Nav deck. This potentially provides a variety of encounters for good or for ill. Good ones usually provide an opportunity to scavenge derelicts or otherwise gain resources. Not so good ones can inflict breakdowns or even draw unwanted attention from either the Alliance or the Reavers.

Buying Supply cards is necessary to be able to complete all but the most low paying jobs. At a Supply planet, a player may take up to three cards from the appropriate deck, drawing from the top and/or selecting from the discards. Of these, up to two may be purchased. Gear and Crew cards provide skill bonuses and will often possess an additional ability (though some of the cheaper Crew cards may have a disadvantage). Among the most expensive are the Ship Upgrades, which provide a variety of ways to pimp out your vessel and improve its performance.

Dealing with Contacts at one of the Contact planets allows a player to obtain jobs to earn cash. Drawing Contact cards works the same as drawing Supply cards (draw three, keep up to two). Successfully completing a job results in becoming Solid with that Contact. In most cases this allows a player to sell scavenged cargo and contraband to the Contact at specified prices. Most Contacts will also provide some additional benefit when you have a Solid status with them.

Jobs are key to getting ahead and come in two varieties. Deliveries require that you pick up something at Point A and take it to Point B, which can be legal or illegal. Crime jobs require you to perform a task at the specified location and are always illegal. All but the lowest paying jobs require that you possess a minimum amount of certain skill bonuses and/or specific forms of Gear to complete. If these conditions cannot be met, the job cannot be taken. When a job is successfully completed, the listed amount of cash is received. At this point, each of your crew will expect to be paid an amount equal to their hiring cost. While you don’t have to pay all of them should you have some reason not to, this is a poor long-term strategy.

Though illegal jobs generally pay better, they also involve drawing and resolving one or more cards from the Misbehave deck. These introduce a variety of complications that crop up during the job. Each card provides 2-3 options that will require either a skill check or the possession of a Supply card. Depending on the results of the choice, there are one of three possible outcomes. Proceed allows you to draw the next Misbehave card or continue/complete the job if it’s the last card you need to resolve. Botch results in the job ending, though you can make another attempt on your next turn. If a Warrant is issued, the job ends in total failure. The Contact card goes to the discard pile and you lose any Solid status you may have with the Contact from whom you obtained the job. While the individual Misbehave cards may look easy to resolve, it can be a tricky matter to successfully do two or more in a row. Therefore jobs requiring multiple draws from the Misbehave deck should only be attempted if you have a large, well-rounded crew backing you up.

From the rulebook:
“Sometimes there aren’t any thrilling heroics to be found and you may need to muck out some stables or bus tables at the local joint.”

Keeping your crew happy is important if you don’t want them abandoning you at an inopportune moment. Certain actions taken can result in Crew becoming Disgruntled. The most common way to Disgruntle a Crew is to not pay them at the end of a job. Should a Crew who is already Disgruntled become Disgruntled again, the card goes to the appropriate discard pile. Though there are many ways to regruntle Crew, the most certain method is to go on shore leave at a Supply planet at the cost of $100 per Crew card you possess (regardless of how many actually are Disgruntled).

If this was all that the game had, it could easily get monotonous. This is where Story cards come in. At the beginning of the game, a Story is selected. This provides an overarching caper to accomplish as you try to keep your ship running. A Story will have one or more Goals to complete. Of all the stories which come with the game, I find the ones with multiple Goals preferable. The single Goal cards essentially boil down to, “Be the first to make X amount of cash.” Multiple Goal Stories give you something to accomplish besides raking in money. The rulebook recommends King of All Londinium as a good introductory story. I personally disagree, as I found the first Goal frustratingly difficult. Harken’s Folly struck me as more suitable for first-timers. There’s also a single player option where your goal is to meet one of three possible criteria within twenty turns.

Opportunities for in-game player interaction are somewhat minimal. If two ships are in the same space, they can trade Supply cards as desired. This is also an opportunity to hire away any Disgruntled crew the other player may have. Otherwise, players just go about their business without interfering with one another. This tendency towards multi-player solitaire can be a turn-off for some gamers.

In conclusion, the Story cards are a major saving grace, as the overall solid game mechanics could otherwise devolve into a cycle of tedium without some overarching purpose. While the lack of player interaction can be seen as a minus, the upcoming Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion promises to provide options in that regard.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill

Design Direction by: John Kovaleski

Cover Art by: Type Name(s)

Graphic Design by: Gale Force Nine Studio

Game Components Included: Game board, Rulebook, 125 Supply cards, 125 Contact cards, 80 Nav cards, 40 Misbehave cards, 7 Leader cards, 4 Starting Drive Core cards, 4 Ship cards, 150 Money bills, 6 Story cards, 1 Alliance/Reaver Contact card, 40 Cargo/Contraband tokens, 28 Passenger/Fugitive tokens, 20 Part tokens, 44 Fuel tokens, 20 Disgruntled tokens, 13 Warrant/Goal tokens, 1 Dinosaur token, 2 dice, 4 Firefly models, 1 Alliance Cruiser model, 1 Reaver Cutter model

Retail Price: $50.00

Number of Players: 1-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 1 hour Solitaire, 2 hours Multiplayer

Website: http://www.fireflythegame.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

B-movie Inspirations: Eliminators (1986)

Rated: PG (?)

Tagline: Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are ELIMINATORS!

It’s pretty hard to find a bad movie I have not seen, unless it is a movie I have simply chosen not to watch. Eliminators turned out to be a movie I vaguely remember as a kid but never saw.  There was something about that cyborg on his mobile unit that looked familiar to me.  Starring some sci-fi greats like Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Andrew Prine (Steven from V, the original mini-series), and Roy Dotrice (most recently from Game of Thrones), this movie had a lot of potential.  It pulled in a ton of cool elements but never really explored them to their full potential.  The acting was fairly poor as well, despite having such well known actors.  This was obviously early in their career and they were still trying to find their feet.  The name of the movie was an obvious attempt to cash in on Terminator, although it is a terrible name for it.

Through the first hour or so, this movie simply drug on.  I was just not getting any kind of inspiration and I was sure I was not going to write anything about it.  However, the last half hour or so redeemed the movie to some degree.  Although it never really explored its full potential, probably due to a low budget, it did have some inspiring moments.  In the end, they bring in cyborgs, ninjas, Neanderthal cavemen, brash river scoundrels and a drone robot that was more prophetic than people knew back then.  Eliminators could have been a really good pulp sci-fi action flick.  And from an RPG game master point of view, it is a perfect pulp action adventure.

We start in an evil scientist lab.  You are not entirely sure what time period or setting it is in, but judging by the surroundings, it was fairly “modern.”  However, the mad scientist is experimenting with time travel and cybernetics, which is sort of a stretch, but I went with it.  A cyborg, made from a pilot who crashed his plane somewhere in Mexico near this lab, is being sent back in time by the mad scientist Dr. Reeves and his assistant Takada.  It is implied by some flashed scenes during the credits that the cyborg is being sent to ancient Rome.

It’s important to picture this cyborg.  He looks like a low budget movie version of the DC super hero Cyborg, literally – except the actor is white.  He has a detachable arm unit that can change to a laser weapon, missile launcher or grapple gun.  I am sure there could be more but those are the three he used in the movie.  His whole body is covered in cheaply-made fabrications and half his face is covered in an eye appliance he never uses and that looks very awkward throughout the movie.  For part of the beginning of the movie and the end, the cyborg uses this mobile unit – a tracked vehicle – that allows him to traverse most any terrain, including stairs.  I think ED-209 needed this thing.  It is one of the cooler parts of the movie; unfortunately they could only afford to have it in the first and last 10 minutes.

Reeves orders Takada to destroy the cyborg because apparently a particular phase in his research is done.  What is subtly implied through this movie is that this poor pilot was fished out of the wreckage and converted to the scientist’s guinea pig, his memory erased and most of his body parts replaced with implants, including a interchangeable weapon/tool arm.  So the story behind the story is that while this scientist is a savior, he is at the same time a Dr. Frankenstein to this cybernetic monster.  Although to their credit they explored this aspect some, I do not feel like the writing did it well.

Takada apparently has an emotional attachment to the cyborg and helps him escape; although he gets himself killed by Reeve’s henchmen in the process.  With his dying breath, he tells the cyborg to find someone named Hunter.  In a blaze of laser fire and bullets that is reminiscent of an old 80s TV show, the cyborg (that is later named John Doe) escapes Reeves’ Mexican compound.

Nora Hunter (Crosby) is a robotics and mechanical engineer working for some military contracting company developing robot drones for the US Air Force.  Although nothing like the Predator drones we are familiar with, it is pretty amazing that even in the 80s we knew that one day they would be using drones in the Air Force.  SPOT, the robot drone, looks more like a miniaturized Artoo unit than a Predator drone.  Once contacted by the cyborg John, the three set out to find Reeves and John’s crash site for answers.

Next, we find ourselves on some river in what we can only assume is Mexico.  This is the part of the movie that simply drags and it seems forced into the plot to fill time.  They apparently spent some money on boats, pyrotechnics, and gun-toting extras to do several boat scenes that seem to have no place in the movie.  The motivations behind the action scenes were simply lame and could have been done much better – river pirates, blood thirsty drug dealers, or something.  Instead, we spend what I would guess is about 20 to 30 minutes introducing the Han Solo character – Harry Fontana (Prine) and his boat, No Questions, through a long and drawn-out river boat chase that reminded me of something seen on the A-Team or The Fall Guy or something.

Also instead of making it an interesting location, the river “town” looks like any river town in the US, complete with the obnoxious redneck river captain.  This could have been done so much better, with a much more creative Mexican river culture.  There could have been more of a sense of isolation and alienation if this was done right.  It could have been a river village living in fear of some drug lord.  Fontana could have been the independent smuggler who might have lost a shipment of… oh wait, sorry.  That’s already been done.  Regardless, I found this part of the movie very boring.  One of many aspects of the movie that could have been done better and more interesting, but obviously due to poor writing and low budget, it fell short.  From a GM’s point of view, this alone is something I would build on and expand into a world of its own.

Once we have escaped from more than one bad guy in a boat, they finally find the wreckage of John’s plane, which gives us little hints of his former life.  But this fell flat because by this time, I didn’t really care as much about the cyborg as I probably should have.  This is followed by more forced plot events like the cyborg getting lost at the bottom of the river (forcibly slotting the party) and various other meaningless moments that could have been introduced in a much more creative way.  In one said encounter, the cyborg, on his own now, stumbles across the aforementioned ninja, Kuji.  Kuji is in search of his father, Takada, and is hungry for revenge when he finds out that his father is dead.

So a river smuggler, robotics scientist, cyborg and a ninja walk into a bar…  Yes, it sounds like a set up to a bad joke.

As we draw closer to Reeves’ lab we begin to get clues to strange things going on around it.  This goes into another part of the movie that could have been so well explored and expanded upon but just turned out to be so lame.  Clues lead us to believe that there are some primitives running about in these jungles.  This leads our heroes to find the tribe of Neanderthals who capture them and make them ill.  But thanks to the quick thinking of our brash river pilot, they are able to escape.  Knowing that Reeves has been exploring time travel, our heroes conclude that he has let a few things in from other times.

And the best you can do is a few cave men!!  This killed me!!  Obviously, there could have been so much more to this.  First thing that comes to mind – DINOSAURS – maybe just a few man-sized raptors or a triceratops maybe.  The sense of isolation that was missing would have made this even more plausible.  They could have even expanded on the strangeness of the party by bringing in a Roman centurion or, even better, a pirate!  Now we have ninjas and pirates!  But no, the best they could do is a short scene with some seriously lame cavemen.

In an RPG adventure, this would be the center of some serious RPG adventuring awesomeness!

The rest of the movie goes as you would expect.  The heroes make a plan, things go awry and the heroes have to face the enemy unconventionally.  This is where the movie almost redeems itself but not quite.  The evil plan is revealed (and I should have seen it coming but was not entirely invested into the movie by this time).  Reeves, now in a get-up that is a cool combination of Roman centurion armor and his cybernetics, intends on going back in time and making himself the new Caesar of Rome.  That cannot be!  Our heroes must stop him!  Although kind of contrived and not very original, it is still pretty cool.  I still would have liked a few more clues into this, though, to keep me interested.  The rest of the movie is fairly predictable, although the ending is sort of a surprise.

The role playing game inspirations I get out of this are more about what the movie could have done, than what was in the actual movie.  I mentioned some already but here they are:

Mad scientist in a remote location experimenting on locals:  Mary Shelly’s work was popular for a reason.  Although not truly experimenting on live locals, the theme is there.   The mad scientist, Reeves, experimented on one guy – a guy that just so happened to crash near his lab.  Conveniently, he would have been otherwise dead so no one would come looking for him.  But why stop there.  Why not cyborged Neanderthals?  Or even better, cyborged dinosaurs!?  The possibilities are endless when you combine time travel and cybernetics.

Leaking time tunnels:  Although this movie did not explore this aspect as well as it should have, time travel leaking into our world could easily be a great center point in an RPG adventure.  Many novels have been based on this concept.  Many Dr Who episodes are based on this concept.  With a remote area where time is leaking in, you can have a wide variety of things happening.

Hodge-podge party:  Although a gamemaster can’t always design a party for home campaign games, they usually can for convention games.  Putting together a cool party that mixes various genres is cool.  A robotics tech, a smuggler, a ninja, a little robot and a cyborg all make up a great potential party.

Escaped experiment: The escaped-cyborg story could be explored in any genre.  An escaped golem or war-forged rampaging the country-side and the party is hired by its creator to hunt him down.  What could be interesting is doing a switch up in the end.  Imagine the surprise of the party to find out that the creator is the evil one and the escapee is simply a victim.

Missing pilot: A missing pilot can be a pull for an adventure.  The fact that they could be anywhere and all you have is the last point they checked in could lead the party to very remote areas.  There must be people that want to know what happened.  The pilot that became the cyborg had a family at one time.  Why aren’t they looking for him?

Aspiring emporer: A mad man seeking to change the past and make himself emperor using “modern” technology can be another central plot to a good RPG adventure.  Time travel can be a powerful tool.  It also can be a tricky thing in an RPG.  You need to have your time travel physics down or it is not going to make sense.  This takes a little work and you have to watch yourself or you may have a paradox on your hands.  Map it out with a lot of “what if” scenarios.  And always remember that the players don’t always follow your plan.

Where did he get that technology?: I made the comment earlier that the time travel and cybernetics seemed out of place for the time period one would assume this is set.  Of course, it is presented as experimental, so we are to believe that this one genius scientist figured it all out himself, with a little help from designs he took from a certain robotics engineer.  But as a role playing game GM, one can expand on that a little further. Perhaps someone from the future came back and gave the mad scientist just enough technology to get him started on the right path.  Or aliens.  Or some other worldly being.

Mindjammer

Mindjammer. The role-playing game.

 From: Mindjammer Press

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Mindjammer is a new role-playing game from Mindjammer Press.

Writing a really good hard sci-fi or space opera game seems to be a definite stumbling block for humanity. Some that we remember fondly like the original Traveller fall a little short now. Others like the awesome SpaceMaster game can get bogged down in a dearth of rules and tables. D20 Future was just a tiny bit off overall and Alternity never gained a following. Mindjammer, in my opinion, has finally brought greatness to the genre.

From the back cover: “Never has there been a greater time of opportunity. The universe is in flux, and for the first time in ten thousand years no one knows what the future will bring. Charge your blaster, thoughtcast your orders to the starship sentience, and fire up the planning engines. Come and defend the light of humanity’s greatest civilization as it spreads to the stars.”

Sarah Newton and crew have created a monster and a masterpiece all in one. The pre-release PDF was 502 pages. Don’t let this scare you. I have never played a game using the FATE rules before. I opened the PDF and did a little spot reading. I admit a few terms confused me. When I started at page one and read through all became clear.

The FATE rules use a simple ‘4DF,’ four Fate Dice system. While they sell Fate Dice (and I would suggest buying them if you play often) you can make do with regular six-siders. The Fate Dice have a ‘-’ (minus) symbol on two faces, a blank (or zero) on two faces and a ‘+’ (plus) symbol on two faces. Basically you roll four dice and add results together. This gives you a shift of -4 to +4 for your skill check or other daring attempt. In practice you can expect a lot of -1, 0 and +1 totals.  This simple roll is it for the system. The complexity and genius come in how it is applied.

Skills are rated as both a number and name. You have Mediocre (+0) to Superb (+5) for your basic list. These are where the average starting character’s skills will lie. Rolling a skill attempt is the above four dice result plus your skill. For example, if you have Good (+3) Ranged Combat and get a net +1 on the dice roll you have a Great (+4) result. Unless your opponent has a very good defense, that’s going to be a solid hit. Characters have other attributes and actions such as spending Fate points, invokes, compels or teamwork that can and will affect the result.

Let’s step back a bit to character creation. The book suggests character creation be your first game. After reading through I agree. To make a character you come up with a high concept. This is a descriptive such as ‘Drifting dancer with a dark secret’ or ‘Long range explorer with a mental issue.’ There is no limit. Descriptors like this really drive the game. Once you have your high concept and an idea of what race you want to play, you can really dive right in and create your Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras during play. I’ll leave it there. You should pick this up and play a game. I mentioned that reading through the book was a good idea. I suggest that the Game Master absolutely needs to do this.

I mentioned the descriptors. This is what I call a true Role Playing game. Getting into character in this game will be rewarding. While Roll Players can enjoy fights and other conflicts, the immersion factor is high with this one. For example, when you are hit, you or the GM can state a descriptor like “You have a Bruised Rib” or “Bloody head wound” that will have Role Playing affects. Very different from the usual “You take 5 damage” of many systems.

From page 5 : “The New Commonality of Humankind is a beacon of light in the blackness of space; hyper-advanced technology and transcendent intelligences are its gifts to the stars.”

The Commonality of Humankind (or just the Commonality) is the setting described for this game. It is set several millennia from now. Old Earth has seen ups and downs. A time of expansion where the moon, Mars and other places in the solar system were colonized has escalated to slower than light generation and later stasis crew ships headed towards distant stars. When faster than light travel was discovered explorers headed out again. Many of the ‘slowships’ made it to their destinations. Some were still thriving colonies. Many were struggling or had regressed technologically.  A large fringe area of systems and planets exist ranging from barbaric Stone Age societies to transhuman populations on exotic worlds. A few actual alien intelligences were discovered. One human society turned extremely xenophobic and attacked the Commonality. Using crude faster than light engines bleeding deadly radiation they cut a swath through known space before being stopped. No truce was signed; the Venu Empire is still a known threat.

There is so much packed into this book I cannot possibly describe it all – rules, history, tech, scientific information on planets, stars, space in general and more. The chapters on stellar bodies and planets are worth a read just for any space buffs out there. I haven’t even mentioned the Mindscape. While computers as we know it are obsolete, data and thought can become one with data boosting thought and actions. Imagine if you could access Wikipedia or Google and have that knowledge available at hyper speed any time. Now imagine you could have that as well as real time satellite imaging and more in the middle of a firefight. That analogy just touches the surface of what the mindscape is capable of. Entire campaigns can exist within it.

The real magic of this game is variation. The setting is vast. Since all you really need is a concept to start playing you can enjoy a long campaign building your characters to greatness or short campaigns or a bunch of one-off games. One week you can be intrepid explorers on the outer fringes, the next a diplomatic corps group bringing a new world into the Commonality fold. You can be a group of diehard marines in a planetary assault or covert operatives on a secret mission in the core worlds. You can be a traveling troupe of entertainers visiting stations, ships and worlds on the fringe or a cultural expert changing a planet population’s way of thinking during assimilation. You can be a small ship full of Venu raiders looking for an easy kill or deep core miners trying to survive after a collapse a hundred miles beneath the surface. You could be a group of Mindscape sentinels defending a core world node or a barbaric world ‘mage’ adapting to space travel. This rules set can handle it all. Your imagination will be the only thing slowing you down.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic game. When I first read the guidelines for reviews on the Gamers Codex site I never thought I would find a product that would merit a ‘critical hit’ of 20 on the Codex Rating scale. This product has impressed me more than I can put into words. Even with a copy of the PDF, I may raise the money to get a print copy of the book.

For more details on Mindjammer Press and their new RPG “Mindjammer. The Role Playing Game” check them out at their website http://www.mindjammerpress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

 

Codex Rating: 20

Product Summary

Mindjammer

From: Mindjammer Press

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Sarah Newton

Developed by: Sarah Newton

Cover Art by: Paul Bourne

Additional Art by: Earl Geier, Jason Juta, FIl Kearney, Eric Lofgren, Marco Morte, Andreas Schroth, Ian Stead, Jeff Ward, Andy Wintrip

Number of Pages: 496

Retail Price: $ 54.99(US) Book and PDF bundle

Item Number:  MUH042201

ISBN: (ebook) 978-0-9574779-5-7

ISBN: (physical version) 978-0-9574779-3-3

Email: info@mindjammer.com

Website:  www.mindjammerpress.com and www.facebook.com/mindjammerpress 

 

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Interview with Chris Birch (Modiphius Games) about Mutant chronicles

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience?

I first played D&D at age 9 with my brother, his girlfriend and friends, this is when it was huge. I then found a copy of Steve Jackson’s Ogre in a tiny village shop, loved it! Scratched my head over the ratio combat and then discovered the world of ‘tabletop games.’ I started playing war-games, boardgames, anything I could get my hands on. I’d often not have people to play games with when my brother moved away to university so I’d invent solo rules. Fast forward a few years, I came up with a game system with my friend Stuart Newman and later we went on to design the FATE based Starblazer Adventures which was so much fun and SO exhausting! I then co-wrote Legends of Anglerre with a fantastic team including Sarah Newton.

How much of the original rules system are you preserving? How much is new? Will it be backward compatible?

We’ve taken the 6 stats and expanded to 8, we’ve kept the d20 (albeit with a new core system), hit locations and the awesome life path character generation (although you can also point buy your character too). Otherwise it’s a fresh new system designed for fast cinematic play, lots of cool gear and spaceships – that’s something new for example. In the 2nd Ed it was a heavily combat-focused game and now we’re adding in the ability to control spaceships. There’s corporations, social skills, lifestyle, allegiances and much more.

Are you advancing the timeline of the setting or keeping it about the same time?

We’re winding the clock back 700 years to when the Dark Symmetry, a malign foul corrupting force, is released and infects computer systems and equipment leading to the downfall of the modern age. This allows you to have adventures during the collapse of technology, as it turns on man, literally! Exploration and investigation of strange cults and rumoured creatures, leading up to the first great war with the Dark Legion. Alternatively you can wind forward 700 years and play in the same timeline as the original RPG. It’s up to you and you get all the information you need on both timelines in the core book.

What about Mutant Chronicles attracts you?

The over-the-top exaggerated heroic action, the dark noir styling, the diesel-punk vibe, the brightly coloured iconic art by Paul Bonner

You are calling Mutant Chronicles a “dieselpunk sci-fi RPG.” This is first time I have seen it referenced in that way. When Mutant Chronicles first came out, those type of terms – “steampunk” and “dieselpunk” – were not all that common. So is this a reinvention of the property to fit a more modern genre or was Mutant Chronicles “dieselpunk” before it was cool to call it so – a game before its time, perhaps?

I think it was actually diesel punk ‘style’ back then, the term just wasn’t really in use. I still love the ‘techno-fantasy’ term too as it really tells you about the vibe of the setting, the cool gear, the madness of the Dark Legion and the epic adventure!

Do you think the comparisons to Warhammer 40K are fair? What makes it different from that property?

It’s set in a more recognizable time, with more familiar factions. At the time characters were exaggerated but Mutant Chronicles made the massive shoulder pads their ‘thing.’ It’s what identifies it and makes it so cool.

What are you most proud of in this work?

I was a big fan in the 90’s; I owned many of the games, so bringing together such a talented team to work on the game and bring it back fresh and ready for action is what I’m proud of.

What did you think of the Mutant Chronicles movie?

It’s a Hollywood movie. It’s a miracle that there’s a multi-million dollar movie with the Mutant Chronicles name, with the same characters, the same corporate names even if the story is not what fans wanted. The styling is a pretty good representation of Imperial and Capitol, so overall I think it did a great job of promoting the brand to a massive audience. We’ve had tons of people sign up who said they saw the film first and so have gone on to discover our awesome gaming world. Just go and watch a few D&D films and see how bad it really could have been 🙂

What is in the immediate future for Mutant Chronicles after your Kickstarter?

Get the core book finished, get the Guides and Campaigns finished, get them out to backers! There’ll be a lot of merchandise to produce, lots of writers and artists to manage, and that’s all part of making it happen. We’re just so excited to see the new system taking shape and we’re already planning a long line of additional products to expand the range.

Mutant Chronicles was not only an RPG, but there was a collectible card game, a miniature wargame, board games, video games, novels, and comic books. It was a pretty extensive property. Do you see or are there plans for Modiphius getting involved in any of the other areas?

Who knows! It depends on the success of the kickstarter, as we’re obviously going to be pretty busy, but once you’re designing one set of products it’s not hard to expand into another similar product.

Thank you for your time and good luck with Mutant Chronicles. We look forward to reviewing it.

Thanks!

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a new Miniature Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

I have stated this before when reviewing other Star Wars products – I have a long history with Star Wars games.  I ran the d6 RPG as well as the d20 RPG for years.  I have played various board games as well as miniature games off and on.  But my Star Wars fandom waivered after the release of the prequels.  I was so disappointed, I sold a vast majority of my collection.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniature Game is the first Star Wars game I have truly invested a lot of time and money in since I gave up on Star Wars so many years ago. However, this game is so complete, so easy to learn and so satisfying from a gamer-point of view, I would play it if it was Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, or any other property (although I keep telling people FFG should consider BSG for this too).

From the page # 26:
“X-Wing has been a labor of love for the design and production teams here at Fantasy Flight Games.”

The first thing you have to get past before even learning the game is the price.  Even if I did not have an aversion to Star Wars games, the price kept me away for a while.  It wasn’t until I played it at a con that convinced me that the game is well worth the money.  The Base game comes with 2 TIE fighters and one X-wing and all the basic supplies you need to play the game.  That costs $40.  You couple that with the $15 single-ship expansions, and you are spending some considerable money, at least for my budget.  Most people I know that play it end up buying two basic sets to get two sets of dice, two sets of templates, and enough stuff to have a good battle.  So you have to really budget yourself before diving into this.

Getting past the price, the game itself is very easy to learn and play.  The basic mechanic came from FFG’s Wings of War series of games, which I love.  It uses a simple template system to measure out your movement and specialized dice to determine combat and damage.  A game round is made up of three major phases and the End Phase where you clean things up.

To start out, a player goes into the Planning Phase, where he secretly plots out the movement of each of his ships.  Each ship comes with its own unique (to each ship type) maneuver dial.  Each dial has a number of various maneuvers (straight, bank, turn, or Koiogran/180 turn), and associated to these maneuvers are speed and difficulty.   Speed is the length of the maneuver template. Difficulty can be simple, standard and difficult.   Difficult maneuvers apply stress to the pilot while simple ease stress.  Having Stress Tokens restricts future actions and movement.

The challenge in the phase is predicting what your opponent is going to do. The key in this phase is that you cannot pre-measure before committing the maneuver.  It is always a challenge trying to get your opponent in range, within your firing arch (for most ships), while avoiding obstacles (in some scenarios) and other ships.  To plan this out ahead of time, in secret and without pre-measuring, makes it even more a challenge.  When I played, the feel of a real dog fight started there.  It took me back to the time I used to play the X-Wing vs. TIE fighter video game.  The tension and the excitement in the game really begins to build up right away.

The Activation Phase is when the maneuver dials are revealed and executed and actions are taken.  Actions are key game effects that can help you or hinder your opponent.  Each ship can only take one.  Some examples are Focus, Evade, Barrel Roll and Acquire Target.  Specific ships can do only a specific set of actions.  Taking an action can easily be one of those things you forget to do, but forgetting can have devastating effects.  Always remember to at least do one of your available actions even if it’s just a Focus.  You do have the option to Pass but only do that if you have no other option.

From the page # 26:
“The X-Wing development team had a simple but ambitious goal: to produce a compelling miniatures game that faithfully replicated the tense starfighter battles of the Star Wars films.”

Not only does the game come with very nicely sculpted and painted minis, it also comes with a variety of cards (what FFG game doesn’t?).  Ship cards represent your ship in the game and might have abilities that require actions.  Upgrade cards add features to your ship and some of these features may require an action.  These all give you a variety of options for that one single all-important action each round.

The Combat phase is quite obviously the reward to all your planning and plotting.  There are attack (red 8-sided) dice and defense (green 8-sided) dice, and each side rolls a number of them based on stats of their ships.  Using a range template, you find your targets and roll your dice.  Previously executed Actions can affect these dice, as well as Abilities, Upgrade Cards and other combat factors.  Each side rolls dice.  Attack dice have special symbols that represent hit, critical hit, miss and focus.  Defense dice have symbols that represent evade, focus or blank (meaning unsuccessful evasion).  As an example of an Action’s importance, the Focus actions can change the focus symbols to something else (depending on if attacking or defending), if that action was taken and the player chooses to spend it.

Damage is determined, if any, and dealt to the target through cards.  You can take normal damage or critical hits, which affect the functionality of your ship.  Shields deflect either type of it, and if the ship has no shields the damage cards are consulted.  Another aspect I like a lot is the damage system.  You use the same cards for both regular damage and critical hits.  The one side of the card, displaying  generic explosion, represents regular damage and takes away from hull points.  On the other side are critical hits and you use those only in the case that critical hits have to be resolved.

The first time I played this, I was hooked.  I resisted it as hard as I could but the game is so simple and elegant that it is hard to hate this game.  Someone said to me when playing that the system “just felt right,” and that’s true.  It just feels natural for any good dog fight scenario.

The rulebook also supplies special rules for overlapping ships, obstacle collisions, squad building, and missions.  In FFG fashion, the rulebook is complete and covers just about everything you would want to know about playing the game.

In conclusion, it is a brilliant game.  It has pulled me back into the Star Wars universe when I thought I would never get back into it.  However, like I said, I would play this if it was Star Wars or anything else.  It’s just fun and easy to play.  It is also very satisfying as a game and, of course, has incredible replay potential.  It is well worth the cost.  It is not only easy to learn, it is also very fast.  A game might be 2 hours max, but more than likely will be less, depending on the number of ships.  I highly recommend this game.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Miniature GameStar Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Miniature Game
Executive Game Designer: Corey Konieczka
Game Design: Jay Little
Game Development: Adam Sadler, Brady Sadler, and Corey Konieczka
Producer: Steven Kimball
Editing and Proofreading: Julian Smith, David Hansen, and Adam Baker
Cover Art: Matt Allsop
Interior Art: Matt Allsop, Cristi Balenescu, Jon Bosco, Matt Bradbury, Sacha Diener, Blake Henriksen, Lukasz Jaskolski, Jason Juta, Henning Ludvigsen, Jorge Maese, Scott Murphy, David Augen Nash Matthew Starbuck, Nicholas Stohlman, Angela Sung
Graphic Design: Dallas Mehlhoff, with Chris Beck, Shaun Boyke, Brian Schomburg,  Michael Silsby, and Evan Simonet
3D Ship Modeling: Benjamin Maillet with Jason Beaudoin
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: Zoë Robinson
Publisher: Christian T. Petersen
Number of Pages: 28 page rulebook
Game Components Included: Base set includes  3 Painted Plastic minis (two TIE fighter minis, 1 X-Wing mini), rules, Quick-Start Rules Booklet, 3 Transparent Plastic Bases, 6 Transparent Plastic Pegs, 8 Ship Tokens (double-sided), 11 Maneuver Templates (3 Turns, 3 Banks, 5 Straights), 3 Maneuver Dials (each consisting of a faceplate, a dial, and a pair of plastic connectors), 19 Action Tokens (4 Evade Tokens,  3 Focus Tokens, 6 Red Target Lock Tokens (double-sided)), 6 Blue Target Lock Tokens (double-sided), 13 Mission Tokens (8 Tracking Tokens, 1 Shuttle Token, 4 Satellite Tokens),  6 Asteroid Obstacle Tokens,  2 Shield Tokens,  3 Stress Tokens,  3 Critical Hit Tokens,  27 ID Tokens (double-sided),  13 Ship Cards,  33 Damage Cards,  5 Upgrade Cards,  3 Red Attack Dice,  3 Green Defense Dice,  1 Range Ruler
Game Components Not Included: There is enough to play in the base set, but there are expansion sets available that allow you to add to your battles.  This reviewer recommends buying at least two base sets.
Retail Price: $39.99 for base, $14.99 for expansion ships (US)
Number of Players: 2 in the base, more with expansion
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 20+ minutes

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

B-movie Inspirations: Starchaser, The Legend of Orin (1985)

Rated PG

Through browsing various databases of cheesy sci-fi and fantasy films, I ran across one I did not recognize at all.  I consider myself well versed in all things cheesy where movies are concerned, but this one caught me by surprise.  However, after watching it, I was even more surprised.

Everything I have read claims that Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, is simply a cheap ripoff of Star Wars, in animated format.  One interesting note is that Starchaser was one of the first animated movies to mix traditional and computer animation, as well as one of the first to be released in 3-D.  Watching it, I was impressed with its fluidity in animation and how well it was done.  For its time, it was ground breaking.  It has since gained a small cult status.  However, as I said, it has been criticized over the years due to similarities to Star Wars.  Although some aspects had some similarities, there is enough difference that I found the movie somewhat interesting.

The movie begins in a subterranean mine, where human slaves are mining a special crystal.  They are being watched over by robots wielding laser whips.  The mine work is very dangerous, as displayed by constant tunnel collapses.  The red crystal being mined apparently has great value to their “god overlord” Zygon.  We are introduced to our hero, Orin, a young mining slave with long blond hair and a habit of questioning his position in life and an ambition to go to the forbidden surface above.  Of course, this gets him in trouble, and also gets a few friends of his killed.  Almost resolved to accept his lot in life, he stumbles across a bejeweled sword in the tunnels while mining.  Out of it appears the ghostly image of a bearded old man telling Orin that he has a destiny.  Once this happens, the blade of the sword disappears and he carries a bladeless hilt for the rest of the movie.

Okay, admittedly it starts out with some similar elements of Star Wars, but the underlying subplot is really what got my attention.

Eventually, Orin finds new-found abilities to manifest an invisible and sometimes glowing blade from the hilt to attack his enemies.  Using it, he finds his way to the surface after escaping the mining complex and discovering that Zygon is no god but a sentient being no different from him (for most of the movie, you believe he is a gray-skinned human but eventually discover he is something entirely different).  Chased by Zygon’s robots, Orin causes an explosion (the crystals are highly volatile) that causes a collapse.  Zygon assumes Orin died in the collapse.  Orin is able to escape to the surface and finds a dangerous jungle world above and eventually runs into… wait for it… a gruff smuggler and pirate named Dagg Dibrimi, who owns a tramp freighter, the Starchasrer, and is looking to steal a cargo of crystals.

I promise, I will get to the differences soon.

Of course, Dagg steals some crystals from Zygon in a blaze of glory.  Along the way, the new party finds a feminine robot named Silica. They travel to another world where Dagg attempts to not only offload the crystals but also his new-found passengers.  Along with Arthur, the ship’s annoying AI, they adventure onward and outward, trying to find Dagg some money while Orin tries to convince him that they have to follow a destiny.   Somewhere along the way, we learn about some ancient guardians called the Ka-Khan, who wielded Orin’s sword to protect the humanity.  A major foe of the Ka-Khan 1200 years ago was Nexus, who sought to enslave humanity and ruled over 52 systems.

Okay, I swear there are differences.

They also meet along the way Aviana, the daughter of the system governor, and apparently an authority that Zygon should be reporting too. But Zygon is pulling the wool over the local authority’s eyes by enslaving humans in the minds and not using the robots for their intended purpose.

The underlying differences lie behind the Zygon, who we find out is actually Nexus, an immortal android.  He apparently covertly conquered the mine world (Trinia) with what remained of his robot force after the last time the Ka-Khan defeated him.  The underlying plotline is his plan to enslave humanity once again.  Zygon formed this industrial complex to mine this valuable crystal, supposedly with robots.  Instead, he armed the mining robots, enslaved a human population and built a fleet, all hidden from the eyes of the local authority.  His final plans to attack the human worlds are the bulk of the last half of the movie, and of course they do not go his way, thanks to our heroes.

What I found interesting in this is the plot behind Nexus/Zygon.  He enslaved an entire population long enough to entrap them in a subterranean mine and brainwash them in believing that the surface was hell and he was their god.  At the same time, he is building an army of robots out of mining droids, while the worlds of humanity ignore him, probably because he is trading in a very valuable crystal.  There are some plot holes in there that I can’t quite fill in within the context of the movie.  However, in an RPG game, it can easily work.

Although there are some elements similar to the Star Wars plot,  the underlying plotline made the movie somewhat original to me.  Although the Ka-Kahn plot was somewhat connected to that, I think the movie could have done without it and figured out a more interesting way to motivate the characters.  It was a little too Jedi-like, admittedly.

Visually, the movie is stunning for its time.  The CGI was great for 1985.  The art and scenery was also great.  The vision of the universe alone would be inspiring for any RPG GM.

For an RPG GM, I found the following inspirations

Building of Hidden Army:  This was done in the Star Wars prequels but not to my satisfaction.  Zygon/Nexus actually had a stroke of genius building his army in the mines of Trinia.  The way I picture it (and is sort of implied in the movie) is that he picked a world that mines a very rare and valuable crystal.  Perhaps it is needed in drive system or in weapons making.  As long as the powers that be get their supply of this crystal at a low price, why question any activity that Zygon does?  Meanwhile, he uses the profits to build an underground facility, where he builds a massive robot army.  The locals continue to send him supplies to maintain his robot mining force, while he enslaves a local population to do the work the robots were supposed to be doing.

Of course, the plot hole lies in the population.  How does he render a population into the primitive state where they believe him a god and the surface world is hell?  Were they primitive when he arrived?  Assuming humanity only comes from one place – Earth – they would be colonists.  It would take a lot to render colonists down to primitives.  If this is another universe, like Star Wars, then the state of their society could be anything.

From a fantasy perspective, I could easily see a dwarven tyrant mining gold from the mountains for the local kingdoms.  The kingdoms send him magics and supplies to create clockwork golems to mine the gold.  As long as they get their gold, what do they care what else he does?  In reality, he has enslaved his own dwarven people and used other magic to make the golems into war machines.  Eventually, he will come down from the mountain and conquer the kingdoms.

Ancient Threat Arisen:  Yes, this has been overdone as well.  Can you say Sith?  But because it is overdone doesn’t mean it can’t be done in an RPG.  In an RPG, you can’t call it overdone.  You call it tried and true.  Tried and true usually works well in an RPG.  Zygon/Nexus was an ancient android with a focused hatred toward humanity and a strong desire to enslave them.  The reasons why were never explored.  What kind of android was he?  Was he a cyborg like Vader or Terminator?  Or was he like Star Trek’s the Borg?  Or was he like the Replicators from Stargate?  Why did he hate humanity so much?  Was it the obvious “I am Robot. I hate organics,” or something else?  Never answered.  Unanswered questions leave open opportunity for adventure plot ideas.  Also planted in the information about Nexus was the fact that he was defeated multiple times by the Ka-Kahn.  What does that mean?  What did they do to him?  Why didn’t they finish the job?

An Ancient Order: The Ka Khan are obviously the Jedi of this universe.  Or are they Ancients like in Stargate?   Why does this region need guardians anyway?  Where did they come from?  Again, unexplored areas that can be explored in many ways by a RPG GM.

B Movie Inspirations: Spacehunter, Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

spacehunter_movie_poster

 

Rated PG

Having the name Ivan Reitman associated to a film usually does not put it in the “B movie” category, but even the great producers have bad movies every once in a while.  Spacehunter was one of several 3D movies that came out, trying to capitalize on the success of movies like Star Wars as well as Road Warrior.   Combining elements of both movies, Spacehunter is a fairly simplistic story with pretty decent set design and production value but poor scripting as well as story writing.

Starring Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, and Michael Ironside, Spacehunter takes place in a future where Earth has colonized multiple worlds, some kind of intergalactic war has occurred, and an Intergalactic Consortium apparently has considerable power now.  At one point, while researching the world at the center of the story, the computer says that the world was explored in 2013.  Boy, were we optimistic in the ‘80s.

In the opening scene, we see a (rather cool looking) star liner stray too close to a very active nebula surrounding a blue giant-white dwarf binary system.  Of course, something catastrophic happens and the liner explodes, with only one escape pod launching.  These survivors land on a desolate world and are captured by locals.  The Intergalactic Consortium sends out a general message to any ship in the vicinity, offering a big reward for the survivors (3 attractive ladies that do not seem to have any other purpose in the plot other than to be rescued).

The main character, named Wolff (Peter Strauss), is a cheap Han Solo knock-off, flying a salvage ship performing a mundane salvage job.  He is accompanied by an android human synthetic who acts as his engineer.  The script goes to great lengths to establish that Wolff is destitute and desperate for a good paying job.  Of course he receives the message and heads to the crash site.

The desolate desert world is called Terra XI (original, huh?).  It was colonized “a long time ago, before the war” but a plague devastated the population “during a stalemate” in the war.  The timing of all this is kind of distracting to me and doesn’t make sense.  The whole 2013 thing threw me, and my mind tried to figure out when this war was and when this plague was, and what a long time ago really meant.  I just wanted it to make sense, at least from a ‘80s point of view, but that’s just how my mind works.  In reality, that’s just nitpicking, I know.

What follows is a journey of meaningless encounters with various threats on this post-apocalyptic world.  It never really answers the question, “What about contracting the plague?”  Is it a threat anymore?  Is it a concern?  Can you only get it from bodily fluids?  Obviously you cannot get it from drinking the water, because they do that some.  The movie does mention something about a serum and a medical team that was sent here a long time ago but nothing beyond that.

Thus we enter the Road Warrior-phase of the movie.  The world is a chaotic mess of mutants, barbarians on souped-up motorcycles, nomadic tribes on sail barges on rails, and more mutants.  The threats they do face are contrived encounters that have no meaning other than to stretch out the movie, show off their set design talents, and make you say “oohhh, aahhh.”  It’s almost like a video game.  Forgive me for wanting more of a story.

The encounters include the aforementioned sail barge on rails being attacked by barbarian bikers.  Then we move on to bloated cocoon-dwelling mutants living in a mysterious ruined tower, followed by water-dwelling mermaid-amazon women in some underground lake or reservoir, followed by mutant child-like creatures throwing bombs from a cliff, to finally the barbarian biker fortress.  During all this, we meet Nikki (Molly Ringwald), a teenaged child of the medical mission and a competitor, Washington (Ernie Hudson), who has also come to save the three ladies who have a history with Wolff.  Nikki annoys you throughout the movie with the silly way she phrases things, implying that she is uneducated and barbaric.  Meanwhile, Washington eventually becomes an ally and helps the team for a split of the profits.

Of course, it would be negligent of me to not mention the bad guy – probably one of the few redeeming qualities of the movie.  Michael Ironside plays the Overdog (very cheesy name), the tyrant rule of the barbarian bikers.  Probably the best make-up and special effects set up in the movie, he is a cyborg with these huge claws for hands, encased in this enormous crane apparatus that lifts and lowers him at will.  At the beginning of the movie, you just think he’s an evil pervert that wants the three women for his pleasure.  However, in truth, there is more to this guy, and it’s perhaps the only redeeming part of the story.

Eventually we end up at the Overdog’s trash-punk super-fortress.  Our heroes infiltrate it, intent on finding the three missing woman (who’s importance is never really explained, other than that they are survivors of the liner).  Inside, we find that the evil Overdog is putting his captives through this twisted maze, Beyond Thunderdome-style (although this was before that terrible Road Warrior-sequel).  There are various traps and perils that seem nearly impossible.  Anyone to make it through is promised freedom.  Of course, we see several individuals attempt it only to suffer a gruesome death somewhere along the way.

This all seems clichéd and boring, at least to me, but come to find out there is more to it.  Unfortunately, you have suffered through too many clichés and manufactured story elements to care anymore.  The maze is apparently a test to see who has the life force worthy of the Overdog.  Planted earlier in the movie, the Overdog and his minion, the Chemist, use an elaborate machine to suck the life force out of viable candidates and maintain the apparently very old life force of the Overdog, in his attempt to gain immortality.

Of course, our heroes win out in the end and escape with the three woman who still never seem to have any other purpose other than be rescued (yes, that bothered me).

Now, from an RPG GM perspective, what is in this movie is not as inspiring as what is not.  There was so much opportunity for deeper story, more adventure and epic ending.  Perhaps because of budgeting, this was taken out, but with so many different beings encountered, I can’t help but think that perhaps it was in the script at one time.

Uniting the Clans: One of my favorite adventure stories is the one behind Flash Gordon.  I couldn’t care less about the actual character but the fact that he united a planet of warring factions against the evil Ming the Merciless was what really grabbed me.  This could have been a re-telling of that kind of story.  And the various factions could be these weird mutants he met along the way.  Instead of one action encounter after another, the heroes could discover that these disparate peoples all have a grievance against the Overdog and he could have found a way to unite them against him.  The fat-suited Blob people are hunted by the barbarian bikers and are looking for some payback.  Perhaps the mermaid amazon’s water ways are cut off or their water is being contaminated by the Overdog.  Perhaps the child-like mutants are being enslaved for the bomb making ability.  And the Sail/Rail Barge people, who were apparently decedents of the original medical mission, hold a secret that the Overdog wants.

Pieces of a puzzle: Couple the above idea with the puzzle plot.  Each faction has a piece to some kind of puzzle or important artifact that will help the heroes in the end goal.  Each of the various factions will have to be persuaded to give up the puzzle, if they know they have it.

The Liche in the Castle: The Overdog character was basically a cybernetic liche feeding off the people.  But obviously, he can’t just feed off anyone.  The maze is a pretty interesting mechanism to test the life force of people.  There are other ways one can test for life force.  Gladiatorial combat, for instance, or a Car Wars-style vehicle race.  Any variety of competitions or challenges could be cooked up.

Plague World: The plague aspect of the plotline was barely touched on.  Apparently the plague caused rampant mutations throughout the colonial population. Is it still viable?  Or has it died out?  Apparently this occurred during some war, so was it a bio-weapon by the enemy?  Does the enemy still have a presence here?

So much unexplored.  So much potential untouched.  Instead, I was left with an empty feeling of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction.